Carrot cake is ubiquitous to the point of being tiresome. Mediocre carrot cake, that is. They seem to be everywhere. Sad examples of an excellent concept. I love an exceptional carrot cake, however, rare though they may be, and spent years searching for the perfect recipe. I sought one that was moistly dense, yet retained a hint of lightness. One that burst with bright, fresh flavor. One whose creamy cheese frosting contrasted beautifully with the rustic heft of the cake. One that made me lick my lips and smile. Oh yes, you know the kind of cake that I mean. And finally, quite a number of years ago, I finally came upon a recipe (I’m not now sure of its origin) that to me is the absolutely most perfect carrot cake.
It is not a beautiful cake, refined or elegant, but it is one of the best confections that I’ve ever tasted. As you can see in the photo, it doesn’t look particularly delicious. But let me tell you, it is fantastic, bursting with pineapple, coconut, and carrots, their rich moistness counterpointed by the crunch of nuts, and by the superbly simple, smooth frosting.
This is one of Paulo’s most favorite cakes, of any type. And mine as well. I’d been making it for years before I met my sweetie, and was thrilled to discover that he likes it as much as I do. This most recent cake was made in honor of his birthday, but I make it several times throughout the year, whenever one or both of us has a particular taste for it. And, given that it contains that superfood carrot, it is almost like eating a vegetable side dish. (Allow me my delusions.)
I have only one caveat regarding the cake. Please, please shred your own carrots. The time and effort are well worth it. The store-bought bagged “shredded” carrots are much closer to a julienne than they are to a true shred, making them far too thick to cook properly in the cake. Rather than melting away into the cake during the cooking process, they retain noticeable structure and rawness. Not good!! Don’t do it. Other than that caution, this cake is foolproof. It will come out perfectly, each and every time. You need never look for another carrot cake recipe.
Tropical Carrot Cake
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups carrots, finely shredded
8 oz can crushed pineapple, with its juice
3/4 cup walnuts, almonds, or pecans, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
6 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350oF. Whisk together the eggs, oil, and buttermilk. Stir in the sugar and vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir into the egg mixture until incorporated. Fold in the carrots, pineapple with its juice, nuts, coconut, and raisins. Pour the batter into a lightly greased 7″ x 11″ baking pan (preferably oval). Bake until just cooked through at the center, approximately 40 minutes.
While the cake is baking, make the frosting. With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until smooth and creamy. (This occurs much more easily if the cheese is at room temperature.) Add the powdered sugar and vanilla, and continue to beat until the frosting is blended, creamy goodness.
After the cake cools to room temperature, frost it. Top with chopped nuts, if you’d like. Or, if you’re Nigel Slater, you can top it with candied shredded carrot, or perhaps candied violets. (One of these days, I’m going to try. I promise you, Nigel.) The cake is best served at room temperature, rather than cold. Consume with a big glass of cold milk, or with coffee at breakfast.